Maybe if I lost my job I’d have time to sort out niggling health issues.
The pains I’d experienced were getting more noticeable. As the weather got colder it certainly affected me most mornings. I used to go ice skating with a friend called Freya. I’m not sure we did anything that resembled ice skating but it was good fun to slide round the ice for an hour chatting. I noticed it when I was ice skating as well. Maybe it was the cold.
I made a careful effort to feel exactly where the pain was when it came on. It was always in the same place, just at the bottom of my ribs on the left hand side. A quick google to check my anatomy map told me this was pretty much where my stomach was. So eventually I did go to the doctor and say I had a stomach ache. She gave it a good prod to no avail as it wasn’t actually hurting at the time. She prescribed some anti gastric juices meds and off I went. Freya had had similar pains in her stomach and arm which was acid reflux and on the tablets, her pains went away.
Anyway, the tablets seemed to be working.
Seemed to be. Or it could have been that I was getting a lot of lifts in to work with Bassalot. This was directly because it was less painful than cycling. I loved cycling. Purely as a means of transport rather than for pleasure at the weekend or anything. I loved cycling, like a bat out of hell, especially cutting through the cross wind on Southsea common on the way to work. Sometimes it was so windy that it seemed to whisk the oxygen away from your face as you tried to breathe it in. My point being, that the physical exertion brought on the pain. So, after a while, if I could get a lift, I would.
The doctor sent me for an endoscopy. Wow. Poking a camera down my throat right the way into my stomach to see what was going on. I was more than a little fascinated. I realise by now I had become properly concerned about the pains. So although the nurse thought I was scared about the endoscopy, it was actually the possible results that could come from the procedure that was phasing me.
I was surprised that I was taken into what looked like an operating theatre. I think there were three people in there and they brought in a large can of Nitrous Oxide a medical grade version of laughing gas also used in cream chargers. The tiny metal refill canisters which were generally found littering campsites at festivals. It is called laughing gas after all and the second most commonly used recreational drug in England and Wales after cannabis.
I really failed to grasp the significance of this or how much it would have helped the situation if I’d inhaled a whole lot more that afternoon. They told me to take a few good lungfulls and then they’d feed the camera down my oesophagus and into my stomach to have a good look around. The important thing was to relax. Gottit. I’m pretty good at doing what I’m told.
I had it down. Camera; gullet; literally. Hardcore is my middle name, but honestly, that was pretty intense. They dimmed the lights and I remember being lain on my side and one of the guys actually putting his hand on my cheek. It felt really comforting although he may have been holding me down if I was kicking off, who knows. It felt exactly as you might imagine having a camera on the end of a tube slid down your throat. Mind you I am glad it wasn’t up my arse. But now I get what the nitrous oxide was for and given my time over again I would have had a damn sight more few good lungfulls before taking that on – or in.
After the procedure I was chatting to a neighbour, Janice, who had also had an endoscopy. I told her I had found the whole thing quite uncomfortable, at which point she said ‘Oh I had plenty of gas, I couldn’t feel a thing’.
I was genuinely actually quite taken aback. Janice, to whom recreational drugs would have been a complete anathema had got shit faced enough on laughing gas that she hadn’t felt the endoscopic camera worming down her intestine. Janice, devoted Daily Mail reader and Brexit voter had literally had the hit of the whole fruit compared to me. I vowed to do better.
The result: my oesophagus and stomach were absolutely fine, no sign of any cancers and my stomach lining was peachy. Brilliant! But also left the question, why did I get such bad pains. I’d managed to build it up in my head that this was the test that would reveal all. My maternal grandmother had died of stomach cancer before I was born and, let’s face it, who isn’t drinking too many units of alcohol these days. But I was OK. As I left, one of the guys said it sounded as if the pain might be skeletal. So back I went to my GP’s.
Meanwhile, I was being performance managed to within an inch of my sanity at work. It was almost a laughable situation (were it not so serious). I’d started at this store as an Assistant Manager and then become Manager. I’m probably not really a manager in the corporate understanding of the word. Sure, I can manage things. All my paperwork’s done on time, I’m considerate to my staff and their lives outside of work, I get a kick out of chasing targets and beating them and coming up with engaging ways of doing this as a team. Have I mentioned I love moving things about? In retail this is called merchandising, and without a doubt, this is something I am shit hot at. But, I am not a bitch. And in retail, more and more, this is what you are expected to be as a store manager. One regional manager at a previous post even told me this.
“I expect all my visual managers to be bitches.” I might as well have packed my bags then.
I had my first hearing. Myself and Maggie and a witness and note writer, our new company Loss Prevention Manager. He was ok, I knew him from before as a store manager. I could take someone along myself if I wished. I had joined a trade union, in a bit of a panic, but it was too soon for them to become involved in this case. My rep did give me really good advice though on the telephone. My other option was to take a work colleague. I didn’t want to take anyone who worked with me at my store. I hadn’t told them about my performance management. They didn’t have much love for our area manager anyway and I always resisted making it an us and them fest with head office. It wasn’t productive to the working environment. At work I generally wanted to do a good job and get back to my life outside retail. And the time I got to do this in was getting less and less. I did ask a manager from another store to come to the hearing with me. She was lovely and agreed straight away. At the final hour though I realised I didn’t really want to put her through it either. It was her company too and she’d have to keep working there after I’d potentially left. I didn’t want head office to think any less of her for siding with me. So I repped for myself and did a bloody good job.
As I had been given about twenty objectives on epiphany day, I had the exact homework I needed to do. I took each point thrown at me, researched the facts and figures I needed and basically had a well evidence backed answer for everything. And it wasn’t even cocky, flappy or lying. It was fact.
I was given another, much smaller list of objectives and told I would get a date for the next hearing in about 5 weeks time.
Once again I am my own worst enemy. I am infinitely capable but will never push myself forward. In front of another human being mostly, as I don’t see myself as any better or worse or more deserving than anyone else. But I am small and blonde and female and am treated very much as such. I won’t say I don’t play to this as well. There’s a certain amount of I can get away with anything precisely because I’m small and blonde and female. But it really goes against you in any position of authority. People become genuinely alarmed if I start making decisions and the small blonde one becomes ‘difficult’ or ‘feisty’. I think that being capable and good at my job means getting on with it and not shouting loudly about what you’re doing all the time. But you really do have to shout loudly at work or you get walked all over. I think even Maggie started to see that I was actually doing a good job in desperate retail circumstances but it was never going to work out between us. Interestingly, the company managed out the managers from the three highest turnover stores. I was one of a cull. And now not one of those stores is still there.
I would say that from the first hearing I had met every one of Maggie’s ridiculous objectives – except improving conversion. She lowered the goal post from 30% to 20%. This was actually way more achievable, but, like I say, I was pretty much over the whole fight by now. I felt massively unjustly treated like I can’t really put into words. If I think about it too much I am still venomously angry. I knew I was in a very fortunate situation. Bassalot would support me if I didn’t have another job to go to. I don’t have any children or dependants who rely on me and my wages and ultimately I could always go to my parents for money. I don’t, but I know they’re there. I am really aware that not everyone has that and I am so angry that corporations can play with people’s lives. For some people what was happening to me could have been a complete financial and personal disaster.
I told the team at work a limited version of events and that if our conversion didn’t get to 20%, I’d had it. I’d decided to leave by this point anyway. There was no way on this earth that I was going to sit through another hearing and justify myself to that unpleasant human being. My plan was to wait until the date came through for my next hearing and then hand my notice in. The team were amazing! Through fair means and foul our conversion crept towards the mythical 20% and the whole situation was becoming more and more surreal. I was good at this and still being managed out.
Physically I was a wreck. Bassalot says every year at Xmas I finally crawl home on Xmas Eve and he rebuilds me and packs me back off to work inevitably on Boxing Day or the day after to deal with the sales. Normally at Xmas I was a feisty wreck but this year I was a broken wreck. The constant crap I was getting for everything we were achieving was like some sort of bizarre reverse punishment.
The date came through for my final hearing. I phoned Maggie first thing in the morning. There was no answer but she phoned me back and I did the deed and handed in my notice. I arranged to stay until December 20th. My first Xmas not working in retail for about 15 years. Maggie said did I feel better now I’d told her.
In my head:
“NO YOU FUCKWIT BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE ANYWAY!”
Because I hadn’t really told the team what had been going on, my leaving genuinely came as quite a shock. One girl started crying tears of happiness for me for getting out which was pretty sweet. She left a couple of months later. It was all a bit of a haze. I played the game for the final five weeks. Still conscientiously trying to get everything done. I had no wish to leave any of the team with shit to deal with after I’d gone or the new manager, whoever they might be, for that matter. Maggie got in a new assistant manager a week before I left so I had someone to hand over to. Then Maggie announced she would be coming down on my last day. A Sunday. The Sunday before Xmas.
I know people have real traumas that they have to go through in life. Bassalot’s charity, Music Fusion, is testament to some of the circumstances that young people have to grow up in. However that Sunday was genuinely one of the worst days of my life. By this time I was empty inside. Actually hollowed out. Maggie arrived with chocolate and flowers. Really?? I just sucked the whole thing up. We did a hand over and store walk with the new assistant manager. We needed signs for the post Xmas sale and Maggie said, just print some up. Print some up??? Her own objectives meant so little to her now. I was lost for words. I don’t think I heard anything else she was saying and within half an hour she’d left anyway. I had a bit of a sob in the loo. Nobody, and I mean nobody, reduces me to tears. Way to go Maggie.
I stepped out to greet life beyond corporate retail.
Heart stuff gets a bit more dodgy next week – chapter #4 Evil Magnet, here Monday 16th September xx